Ceasing to really matter? Why our digital world renders CRMs obsolete

Knowing this, many companies have sought to use first-party data to build personalised, connected experiences that play into consumers’ rising expectations. But the systems they are using to do this – CRMs – remain limited. Too often, grand ambitions for personalised customer experiences are left largely unfulfilled.

The next year is likely to see a shake-out, as companies seek to extract greater value from their data in a highly competitive trading environment.

CRMs obsolete? Testing the limits of the CRM

For a company to put its customers first, it must first understand them. In the good old days, when your local grocer knew your whole family and your bank manager was on first-name terms, that wasn’t so difficult. Today, of course, it is far from straightforward.

With the arrival of the digital age, the channels for customer engagement have proliferated more quickly than most businesses can keep pace with. Just remembering the history of a single customer relationship — let alone trusting that it is shared consistently throughout the whole organisation — is becoming harder every year.

In most cases, customer interactions are recorded separately by each business function — sales, support, marketing, and so on. This data is then combined to provide a ‘single view’ of the customer. However, this is often limited in scope, as it relies significantly on data that is manually inputted and does not consistently include interactions that occur elsewhere.

The data that is collected in the CRM doesn’t get integrated well with the data captured by other teams around the business. The sales team may go to the CRM as the fount of all knowledge, but the analytics team may be dealing with a different data set altogether. These duplications push each team out of sync because they are working from siloed data that only gives a limited view of each customer relationship. Nobody has the full picture.

This messy patchwork not only undermines the dream of a consistent, connected customer experience, but it’s also bad news when it comes to the GDPR. Compliance with data privacy regulations is much harder if there isn’t a way of reconciling all the different pieces of data on a single customer, making suppression and deletion requests nigh-on impossible.

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Going back to basics

CRM was an excellent tool for a less complex era. But now that customer relationships are fragmented across so many different channels, it is time for a complete overhaul of the way first-party data is gathered, governed and implemented.

One alternative — noted for its radical simplicity — is to work from the ground up, using a customer data infrastructure to centralise information. This acts as a single data foundation for the entire organisation, overcoming the challenges of siloed data sets to ensure the customer journey is clearly understood by teams right across the business.

Rather than relying on salespeople to enter and update customer data sets, this approach updates records automatically and in real time. By addressing the challenge with a single infrastructure, first-party data is unified, standardised and governed reliably and in one place. As a centralised solution, it can also be easily scaled and the data that you need can be made immediately available in any application you use, with no hassle.

When properly implemented, this approach allows companies to deliver highly-relevant, contextualised customer experiences across every channel.

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Consulting the experts

Successfully managing customer data is such a knotty, complex challenge that companies must always include software engineers and other in-house experts in the decision-making process when looking to expand capabilities beyond just CRM. Too often, specialists are left out of the equation – something that is particularly galling, given that these are the people that have to deal, first-hand, with the consequences of any decision.

Far too much engineering time is still spent at the back-end, ensuring first-party data is properly funnelled from the CRM to the vast array of tools where it’s needed. The concerns and priorities of the engineering team – from ease of integration and upkeep requirements to interoperability and vendor neutrality – should always be given serious consideration, to ensure that any data solution frees up their time to work on customer-facing products and experiences.

Additionally, there is a major advantage to the infrastructure approach when it comes to the question of vendor lock-in. By starting with a single infrastructure, technical decision-makers are able to shape their own, agile tech stack, choosing exactly the tools that are right for their business and its current priorities. As their needs change and grow, they are free switch up or add tools, without having to build the integrations for themselves.

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Making a decision

Shifting away from a CRM-centric approach is a huge decision, but there is far too much at stake to keep things as they have always been.

Today, the only way digital businesses can put their customers first is by building their company around them. Ultimately, that means returning to first principles, which starts with a strong data infrastructure.

Chris Sperandio is the Product Lead, Data Integration and Management at Segment

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